Cultural Revolution, 1966–76, mass mobilization of urban Chinese youth inaugurated by Mao Zedong in an attempt to prevent the development of a bureaucratized Soviet style of Communism. Mao closed schools and encouraged students to join Red Guard units, which denounced and persecuted Chinese teachers, intellectuals, writers, artists and other “class enemies,” engaged in widespread book burnings, facilitated mass relocations, and enforced Mao's cult of personality. The movement for criticism of party officials, intellectuals, and “bourgeois values” turned violent, and the Red Guard split into factions. Torture and suicide became common, and it is estimated that a million died in the ensuing purges and related incidents. The Cultural Revolution also caused economic disruption; industrial production dropped by 12% from 1966 to 1968, years that also saw the worst of the urban violence.
In 1967, Mao ordered the army to stem Red Guard factionalism but promote the Guard's radical goals. When the military itself threatened to factionalize, Mao dispersed the Red Guards into the countryside, and began to rebuild the party. The Ninth Party Congress (1969), which named Marshal Lin Biao as Mao's successor, led to a struggle between the military and Premier Zhou Enlai. After Lin's mysterious death (1971), Mao expressed regrets for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. However, the Gang of Four, led by Jiang Qing, continued to restrict the arts and enforce ideology, even purging Deng Xiaoping a second time only months before Mao's death (Sept., 1976). The Gang of Four were imprisoned in Oct., 1976, bringing the movement to a close.
See R. MacFarquhar, Origins of the Cultural Revolution (3 vol., 1974–97), R. MacFarquhar and M. Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution (2006); F. Dikotter, The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962–1976 (2016).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Chinese, Taiwanese, and Mongolian History